Nov. 11, 2010
By Mitch Lex, MSU Athletic Communications Student Assistant
At a young age, senior safety Jesse Johnson knew where he wanted to play college football. Growing up in nearby Durand, Johnson was born a Spartan fan, and attending Michigan State games in the fall has been a family tradition since he was a child.
"My Grandpa has had season tickets for 57 years and I've watched every home game here except for one since I was eight," Johnson said. "It's always been a dream of mine to play on this field one day, and I have been fortunate enough to have it come true."
But achieving this goal didn't always come easy for Johnson. Despite success on the football field as a three-year starter at Durand Area High School, Johnson faced adversity throughout his high school career both on and off the field.
As a free safety and outside linebacker for the Railroaders, Johnson led the team in tackles in both his junior and senior seasons, but a knee injury in 2005 kept Johnson's playing to only seven games. While this did not discourage Johnson from capturing his dream of playing for the Spartans, others didn't believe it was an achievable goal.
"In high school I kept telling my counselor I wanted to play college football and that's what I was going to focus on, and over and over she told me I needed to do something more realistic," he said. "But since then I've just battled through everything I've faced and have made it to where I am today."
Once he earned the chance to suit up for the Spartans as a walk-on, Johnson didn't waste any time in taking advantage of his opportunity. After redshirting his first season, Johnson saw action in 10 games in 2007 and earned his first letter. He appeared in another 10 games his sophomore year, and made a name for himself in the special teams game, blocking a punt in the season opener at California.
"It was a lot of fun blocking my first punt - I think my teammates were more excited than anybody because I could get a block every day in practice but never in games, and I finally got one," said Johnson. "When I got to the sidelines, everyone was going crazy."
Johnson solidified his spot as a special teams force, and continued to improve. Last year, he blocked another punt in the season opener, this time against Montana State, and was named MSU's Special Teams Player of the Week following the victory.
Although Johnson has achieved much success on the field, the word "content" has never been in his vocabulary.
"Since I've been here, I've just wanted to play more and more, which is pretty much my biggest inspiration," he said. "I've never really been satisfied with where I'm at. I've played in a lot of games but I want to get better and better and keep playing."
"For this to be my senior year and to be a part of everything that we are doing right now, I think is very special to my parents and especially my Grandpa, who has seen every single game here for 57 years."
After a successful junior campaign in 2009 and years of demonstrating hard work, consistency, determination and leadership, Johnson accomplished one of his biggest goals this fall since becoming a Spartan - he earned himself a scholarship.
"Earning a scholarship has been all about validity for me," said Johnson. "It shows that I've actually made it."
Along with earning a scholarship, Johnson has seen his responsibility for the team progress throughout his career. He also feels that the recent success the Spartans are having will leave an impression lasting far beyond this season.
"My role has definitely gotten bigger every year," he said. "Since becoming a senior there's been more playing time and my role as a leader has increased, which really means the most to me.
"This season, beating Michigan three times in a row for the first time in a long time has definitely been the highlight. We are changing the culture in the state of Michigan and that means an awful lot to my teammates and me."
With the Spartans tied atop the Big Ten standings, Johnson is soaking in every minute of his last year as an MSU football player - and knows its significance for his family who has bled green and white for years.
"For this to be my senior year and to be a part of everything that we are doing right now, I think is very special to my parents and especially my Grandpa, who has seen every single game here for 57 years," Johnson said. "For him to see my senior year and the success we are having kind of brings my whole experience together, but it would really all be brought together if we end up in Pasadena."
While Johnson has achieved significant personal goals with the Spartans, the team's success in his final season is how he wants to be remembered.
"My legacy is unwritten," he said. "My legacy is what this team does this year. And I think we're getting it done."
This feature was originally published in the Nov. 6 edition of Michigan State Football Gameday Magazine.